Amber Alert system sparks some confusion

When an Amber Alert goes out, police are looking for help in locating an abducted child.

Time is of the essence.

But so is common sense.

Emergency responders are looking for answers, not questions.

On Monday, the Wireless Emergency Alerts program (WEA) provided an Amber Alert notification to smartphone users throughout Pennsylvania regarding a 5-year-old Philadelphia girl, according to Warren County 911 Center Chief Telecommunicator Terry Carlson. The girl was later found and the Amber Alert was canceled.

The word got out, but the recipients were not prepared.

“Since it is new and not publicized very well, people had no idea what to do with it,” Carlson said. “The 911 Center received numerous calls just after 9 p.m. Monday about an Amber Alert.”

While police and public safety officials are hoping for calls, they only want calls from people who have some information to contribute to the finding of the abducted child. Because the state Amber Alert system is run by the Pennsylvania State Police, users throughout the state received the message.

“The biggest thing I want to get out to the public is not to call 911 when this happens,” Carlson said. “Turn your radio on to a local station, turn your TV on to a local station, or go to the internet and inquire about the alert.”

“If they issue an Amber Alert for this area and you see the missing person they are looking for, the vehicle they are looking for, or the suspect they are looking for, then, by all means, call 911,” he said.

WEA went online Dec. 21. Amber Alerts are one of the types that go out over the WEA system. Every compatible smartphone is automatically enrolled in the service. Users must opt out if they don’t want the alerts.

While Carlson asked that smartphone users not call 911 simply because an Alert goes out, he asked that they not disable the feature. “This type of technology and mass alerting has the potential to save lives,” he said.